A “community of broken-hearted members” gathered Sunday night at Sharon Tiger stadium to mourn those killed and injured in a violent Friday night crash on the Shenango Valley Freeway in Sharon.
The Rev. James A. Reardon led the vigil, organized by Sharon school officials and the football boosters, in response to the crash.
Corey Swartz, 18, was driving with three teammates when he crossed the median on the four-lane road in Sharon and hit a truck head-on.
Also killed were Corey's passenger, Evan Gill, 17, of Sharon, and the pickup driver, John Zdelar Jr., 50, of Brookfield.
Corey and the other players had been spectators at another playoff game before the wreck occurred at about 10 p.m. Friday. Twin brothers Craig and Greg Osmon, 17, also of Sharon, were injured and required surgery.
Zdelar’s passenger, his stepson, Evan Wallace, 10, was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital. His other passenger, his neighbor, Blake Yenderak, 12, was released after getting medical treatment, police said.
Corey and Evan will “always be remembered as the heart and soul of the Sharon football team,” said Reardon, himself a former Tiger gridiron player.
Speaking directly to their teammates at the vigil, Reardon admitted “it sucks” to have lost them this way.
There are few other ways to succinctly describe the tragedy and it’s OK for the kids to feel heartache and pain and be angry about it, he told them.
The only solace that can be drawn from the tragedy is that those killed are “in a greater place,” Reardon said.
“Fellas, they’re there to watch over you,” he said.
He reminded them of the camaraderie they share as teammates and members of the community.
“We are all one family,” Reardon said. “There are many people here, but only one family. We are one family united.”
He urged the players to call on the values they’ve learned from football: “determination, perseverance, integrity, character, enthusiasm, pride, leadership.”
“Corey and Evan were all of that,” he said.
They share those traits and can be comforted by the unity they have as teammates.
“We are one as Tigers,” Reardon said.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat any of this at all, it’s going to hurt for some time,” he said. “There’s nothing in life that’s easy. (These) accidental (deaths) Friday changed a lot of lives.”
Corey and Evan were also memorialized by four senior teammates: Austin Alfreno, Troy Hejazi, Daniel Vanderslice and Carnell Hawkins.
“They were the two best guys I ever met,” Austin said.
They were “a big part of this family and a big part of Sharon,” Troy said.
“You’ve got to look on the bright side and think of the good things,” Troy said to those who were crying.
Corey and Evan were “two of the funniest people I met in my life,” Daniel said.
They’re hard-pressed to find serious photos of them and they share memories of the good times they had together, Daniel said.
“I just love playing football with Corey and Evan,” Carnell Hawkins said. “I just loved these guys so much, man.”
He regrets not expressing that love before Sunday.
“I love everybody on my team,” Carnell said.
The Tigers will take on Girard at 7 tonight in Erie in the District 10 AA playoff game initially scheduled for Saturday.
Students and fans can make the trip by bus to root on the team by meeting at 4:30 p.m. at the Pearl Street gate of the stadium.
Community members can buy a seat on one of the buses for $10 per person, football boosters president Ryan Mergl said.